I Don't like Green Eggs and Ham!

By Kennedy Jr., Robert F. | Newsweek, April 26, 1999 | Go to article overview

I Don't like Green Eggs and Ham!


Kennedy Jr., Robert F., Newsweek


Industrial farming isn't just bad for hogs, chickens and the environment. It produces tasteless food.

The Earth Pledge Foundation has asked Americans to consider, on Earth Day, the meaning of "sustainable cuisine." Arguably, the most sustainable food is the hot dog, since that's where all of the stuff that would otherwise go to waste ends up. It's like the Indians and the buffalo--they used everything. Buffalo hot dogs might be the best bet because, among all ungulates, buffalo use the prairies without destroying them. But most hot dogs are neither dogs nor buffalo but hogs, and, nowadays, that means industrial pork, which is one of the most unsustainable foods on earth.

North Carolina's hogs now outnumber its citizens and produce more fecal waste than all the people in California. Some industrial pork farms produce more sewage than America's largest cities. But while human waste must be treated, hog waste, similarly fetid and virulent, is simply dumped into the environment. Stadium-size warehouses shoehorn 100,000 sows into claustrophobic cages that hold them in one position for a lifetime over metal-grate floors. Below, aluminum culverts collect and channel their putrefying waste into 10-acre, open-air pits three stories deep from which miasmal vapors choke surrounding communities and tens of millions of gallons of hog feces ooze into North Carolina's rivers.

Such practices have created a nightmare that seems like something out of science fiction--but in this case, the effect is all too real. In North Carolina, the festering effluent that escapes from industrial swine pens has given birth to Pfiesteria piscicida, a toxic microbe that thrives in the fecal marinade of North Carolina rivers. This tiny predator, which can morph into 24 forms depending on its prey species, inflicts pustulating lesions on fish whose flesh it dissolves with excreted toxins. The "cell from hell" has killed so many fish--a billion in one 1991 incident-- that North Carolina used bulldozers to bury them beneath the rancid shores of the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound. Scientists strongly suspect that Pfiesteria causes brain damage and respiratory illness in humans who touch infected fish or water. Two years ago Pfiesteria sickened dozens of people, including fishermen, swimmers and state workers.

Industrial farming is also for the birds. Some corporate poultry farms crowd a million beakless chickens in cramped dark cages, soaking up antibiotics and laying their guts out for the duration of their miserable lives.

Corporate farming isn't just bad for chickens and hogs--and the environment. It is destroying family farms. According to Sierra magazine, billionaire chicken barons and billionaire hog tycoons have used their market power to drive a million family farmers out of business, including virtually every independent egg-and-broiler farmer in America. …

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